July 6, 2010


What Economists Can Teach World Cup Coaches (JACK EWING, 7/06/10, NY Times: Economix Blog)
n a paper issued by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich, Alexander Ebertz and Marc Gronwald argue that the notion of evolutionary finance may help explain why certain styles of soccer seem indomitable for a time, only to eventually be usurped by a new strategy.

As described by the authors, evolutionary finance regards financial markets as a competition not so much among individuals as among strategies. In Darwinian fashion, strategies constantly adapt and mutate, and no strategy can be assured of long-term success. Rather, an investment strategy is only superior until another evolves that is better. Successful strategies must always be seen in light of competing strategies.

So it is with soccer, Mr. Ebertz and Mr. Gronwald argue. They note that various soccer strategies have been hailed as modern and superior, only to be supplanted by new methods of play.

Currently, Mr. Ebertz and Mr. Gronwald write, commentators seem to believe that the most effective style is that practiced by top clubs like Munich Bayern, FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team, which on Wednesday will meet Germany in South Africa.

This style calls for maximum ball possession; short, accurate passing; and constant probing and exploitation of any crack in the opponent’s defense.

But the authors note that the history of soccer has seen numerous strategies come and go, from extreme offensive play with 9 strikers (out of 11 players on a team) to extreme defensive play practiced at Inter Milan in the 1960s under coach Helenio Herrera — who, it happens, was the same nationality as Mr. Maradona, whose strategy as the Argentine coach at the World Cup competition in South Africa this year was all about offense.
Which is why we need better coaching more than better players.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 6, 2010 6:24 PM
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